Fulton County prosecutors revealed Wednesday that former President Donald Trump’s election interference trial in Georgia will last an estimated four months, not including jury selection, with some 150 witnesses called to testify.
The update came during a public hearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, where prosecutors and lawyers for the 19 defendants hashed out their arguments for and against trying the group all together.
McAfee ruled afterward that two defendants seeking to separate themselves from the pack, attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, would be tried on Oct. 23 as scheduled.
Prosecutors will submit a brief arguing why all 19 should be tried at that time, although the judge seemed skeptical of that scenario, given that it’s less than two months away.
In August, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis used Georgia state racketeering law to charge Trump and his allies with scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. The case has added to Trump’s already significant legal problems, as he is facing federal criminal charges in two other cases — for alleged election interference and mishandling of classified documents — along with state-level charges in New York.
The Georgia case is unique in how public the process has been: Wednesday’s hearing was livestreamed on the judge’s YouTube page, and it is also the first case in which Trump was made to have his mug shot taken.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee listens as he presides over a hearing on Aug. 31.
Setting the case apart further is the sheer number of defendants, with contrasting defense strategies, although all have pleaded not guilty. It is not clear where the county might find a big enough venue to hold such a trial.
Chesebro and Powell requested a speedy trial, meaning they need to begin by early November to comply with state law.
McAfee set Oct. 23 as the pair’s trial date two weeks ago; he denied Chesebro’s motion to separate his case from Powell’s on Wednesday. The rest of the group is currently scheduled to be tried beginning March 4.
Prosecutors, however, have repeatedly said they want to try the case once, for everybody. A trial for only Chesebro and Powell would still require four months, they said, arguing it would be an inefficient use of government resources.
The jury selection process will likely make the trial, or trials, even longer. Another Fulton County racketeering case involving rapper Young Thug began jury selection in January; it is still not complete eight months later.
At the hearing, Fulton County prosecutor Will Wooten confronted arguments from some of the defendants that they should be separated from the group of 19 because their alleged roles in the conspiracy differed from others’. Courts have already decided that in conspiracy cases, the government does not have to show that each member of the alleged scheme had the same knowledge as every other member, Wooten said.
A few defendants, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, are fighting to move their cases to federal court by arguing that the actions under question were taken as part of their official roles in the federal government.
The petitions to move to federal court presented a particularly thorny issue, as Wooten and McAfee said those proceedings could take as long as six months, possibly preventing a state jury from rendering a verdict in the meantime.
McAfee said that he aimed to set a more firm schedule by next week.